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photo © Discovering Finland

Finns have long had an inherent appreciation and understanding of the cultural importance of art and design. This appreciation is obvious to any visitor to almost any town in Finland, where numerous installations, statues, and monuments abound, and where galleries are almost as plentiful as the stores offering locally fashioned hand-crafted wares.

There are many other indications of the large part that art plays in the everyday lives of the Finn. For example, in Finland there are some 2,500 art associations, which is surely one of the highest per capita in Europe. Alongside Nature, Art is vital to the Finn, and it is perhaps a combination of their great loves that has led to ITE art. One of the most vital art movements in the country is that of contemporary folk art, or outsider art — what the French have termed Art Brut. Finns call this ITE art, where the initials represent the words ‘itse tehty elämä, which literally translates as ‘self-made life’. In 2005 there were 224 ‘folk artists’ creating in Finland and making a unique contribution to international outsider art; indeed John Maizels, the British author and editor of the art magazine Raw Vision, believes Finnish artist, Veijo Rönkkönen, to be one of the masters of outsider art.

With art playing such a diverse role in Finnish life, it is hardly surprising that Finland is a world leader in matters of design. The history of Finnish design can be traced to 1875 when the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design was founded, and the School of Arts and Crafts was set up. Almost 100 years later this school became the University of Art and Design Helsinki, and was identified by the influential publication Business Week as one of the best universities for design in the world in 2007.